Decorative Needlework, Miss M. Morris (Great Britain)
International Congress of Women, London, July, 1899, volume 4
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This is an excerpt from a lecture by May Morris to the International Congress of Women. In it she stresses that it is discrimination in training and education that hampers women in the Arts. The illustrations are from an instruction booklet published by American manufacturer of embroidery silk: Brainerd & Armstrong Co. New London, Conn. 1911.
The art of embroidery to-day is carried on mostly by women working under one of two different sets of conditions: first, we have the amateur who works at home; on the other hand, there is the young woman who must make a living, and seeks what she calls "light work"; and, however honest and faithfully she does her daily task, yet it is a task. She does not have to think or invent much; her intelligence is only exercised mechanically, and her greatest interest in the task's wage.
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Besides these two classes of embroideresses there are, as there always has been, the Church schools. I regret to say these last do not now produce the interesting work they once did. There are also a few philanthropic work societies, some of which, in finding employment for women, make it distinctly understood that none but gentlewomen "by birth and education" need applya restriction which rather narrows the scopes of such enterprises. There are, lastly, some few people who, furnished with a historical knowledge for the art, happen to have leisure and opportunity to pursue it experimentally on new and unwonted lines. Their experiments may succeed or fail, but their work has always some note of interest, in so far as it is thoughtful, and embodies the serious effort and training for which all art imperatively calls.
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It is the want of thorough training that hampers women in the arts, great and small. In all the sciences that women feel called to study, years are devoted to laborious and exhausting mental and physical training. To dabble in science and live by it is impossible; but we dabble in the arts and live on unscathed. Perhaps vengeance comes another way; for the stress of life grows great, and the girls who sit in a stuffy workroom, embroidering true-lovers knots on that court-train, would be little or no worse off working a sewing machine all day.
Let us pause a little, therefore, in our enthusiasm for hand work, in our satisfaction at inventing graceful employment for delicate girls; let us insist on some compact between public and employer, to the end that the labour of those pale, tired hands shall not be cheapened for us at the cost of so great a sacrifice.
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